"You can tear it out and cut it down. You can burn it and throw it all away. But if you want, it can all grow back."
Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 13 of “The Walking Dead.”
After a lighthearted romp through a carnival last week, “The Walking Dead” pays a visit to the Kingdom as the situation with the Saviors explodes into heartbreak. Secrets come to the surface and difficult decisions are made as some of the more reluctant characters are pushed to the brink of war. This powerful episode progresses the plot, develops the characters and delivers some truly incredible performances from the cast. Simply put, the game has been changed and there is no going back.
Rick may not have been completely successful in his attempt to convince Ezekiel to join the fight against the Saviors, but the fragility of the Kingdom’s relationship with their oppressors forces the King to shift his point of view. An eerie opening scene shows several of the Knights loading a single cantaloupe into the back of a truck, leaving the viewer in the dark as to what exactly this means; it’s worth noting that this is the shortest cold open in the entire series. Over at her cottage, Carol is woken up by nightmares and decides to leave and head to the Kingdom as the sun slowly rises. Using a machete and a street sign, Carol kills several walkers before the guards are even able to open the main gate; Benjamin and the others are clearly shocked by how skilled Carol is. She makes her way to Morgan’s room and questions why Jesus lead the Alexandria group to the Kingdom. Carol also asks if everyone back home is safe and if Daryl lied to her, but Morgan refuses to answer, stating that she will need to ask Daryl himself, even offering to travel back to Alexandria with her; he cites Carol’s request to keep her location from the group a secret as reason for not exposing Daryl’s lie. Rather than taking up Morgan’s offer, Carol leaves the Kingdom, but is stopped by Benjamin asking her to train him in fighting; she refuses and continues back to her cottage. A distraught Richard is shown outside of the Kingdom burying a child’s backpack with the name “Katy” on it. The beginning of the episode plants many seeds that bloom over the course of the episode, representing the challenging position that the community is currently in.
“Bury Me Here” is an episode that helps to showcase King Ezekiel’s role as a leader. He is shown watching the many residents go about their day, including a teacher and her group of students and a father playing with his son; in regards to the latter, there might be a hint of foreshadowing as the father pretends to bite his son, possibly hinting at the Kingdom being attacked and/or overrun by walkers. A young woman named Nabila (Nadine Marissa) cautiously approaches Ezekiel and Shiva as the stand on a balcony overlooking the community. She explains that weevils have taken over the crops and that they must be burned before they spread to the “royal garden.” Nabila also offers up a bit of hope and optimism, stating that the crops will grow back and that everything will be okay; Shiva lets out a groan, prompting Nabila to hilariously admit that she may have “pissed her pants.” It’s great to see the show introduce smaller characters such as this to make the communities feel more populated and developed. Before leaving for a supply drop, Benjamin gifts Morgan a painting and the two have a touching bonding moment before everything falls apart. There is some heavy parallelism as Richard and Morgan discuss Benjamin taking on the role of a father to his younger brother Henry; they hint to each other that they were both parents, but lost their children early on in the apocalypse.
The trip to their meeting with the Saviors takes a mysterious turn when the Kingdommers are stopped by an odd roadblock of shopping carts arranged into the shape of an arrow. Realizing that something is wrong, the Knights surround Ezekiel as they sweep the area for threats, but instead come across a pre-dug grave with a marker stating “bury me here.” Ezekiel and the others look down at the grave, somberly stating that “people have lived through every kind of misery,” referring to the horrific apocalypse that has overtaken the world and the effect that is has on survivors. They clear the roadblock and make their way to the meet point, but the Savior leader Gavin is not happy with their tardiness. Ezekiel tries to explain and Gavin shuts him down, even going so far as to lambaste him for living in a fantasy land; Jerry interjects and is struck down by Jared using Morgan’s stolen staff. Gavin inspects the tribute, but angrily orders Ezekiel and the Knights to turn over their guns after realizing that they are short on their offering. Ezekiel assures Gavin that they brought twelve cantaloupes, but when he counts, there are only eleven. There’s a brief standoff as everyone draws their guns, but Ezekiel orders the Knights to comply and hand them over to the Saviors. Keeping in line with his promise from their last few meets, Gavin states that Ezekiel and his group must learn a lesson about following the rules and orders Jared to shoot Richard; tearfully, Richard accepts his fate and tells Jared “just do it,” but in an overly dramatic twist, Jared turns the gun on Benjamin and shoots him in the leg as the screen cuts to black for an unnecessary commercial cliffhanger. This supply meet changes everything and establishes this particular group of Saviors as being not only despicable, but also incredibly idiotic.
Out of this group of Saviors, Jared is clearly the loose cannon and Gavin realizes this, ordering him to return the staff to Morgan and back off, angry at him for shooting Benjamin instead of Richard. Still, Gavin demands that Ezekiel bring an additional cantaloupe the next day to replace the one that was lost. As Benjamin bleeds out, the Knights load him into the truck and take off in a hurry to Carol’s cottage; Richard is in a complete state of shock and is almost unable to move after witnessing the turn of events. They arrive at Carol’s and start treating Benjamin’s gunshot wound, but they are unfortunately too late. In his final few breaths, Benjamin quotes a line from “The Art of Peace” to Morgan; “to injure an opponent is to injure yourself,” referring to the pacifism that Aikido teaches. Benjamin’s body is covered with a white sheet as his shocked friends look on in sadness, but Morgan rushes out the door in anger. He walks over the the area where the roadblock was set up and essentially has a complete breakdown as flashes of his life light up the screen; he sees his late son Duane and wife Jenny, Benjamin and the word “clear” that he wrote several times at his old apartment. He kicks over a plastic bin in his fit of rage, revealing the missing cantaloupe that triggered Benjamin’s death. Morgan is able to deduce that Richard was the one who hid the cantaloupe as he disappeared momentarily when the group arrived at the roadblock. The death of Benjamin flipped a switch in Morgan’s head, shifting him from a place of absolute peace to one of instability, reminiscent of where he was for much of the series after meeting Rick.
Back in the Kingdom, Morgan furiously confronts Richard about his actions. There is a bit of regret in Richard’s voice as he explains that the original plan involved him being killed as a martyr. Setting up the roadblock and hiding the cantaloupe was supposed to anger the Saviors and prompt them to kill Richard like they promised, effectively leading Ezekiel and the Kingdom to join the other communities in their war efforts. Instead, the unpredictability of the Saviors lead to Benjamin taking the role of a sacrificial lamb. Richard hopes that this will still cause Ezekiel to rise up and get involved. Richard also tells Morgan about how he lost his family; early on in the apocalypse, Richard lived in a large refugee camp, but partially due to his decision to not take action, a fight erupted and his wife was killed in the process. He escaped with his daughter, but with a lack of supplies, she didn’t last long. Rather than allowing something like this to happen again, Richard states that they must get ahead of things before more of their people die; unfortunately, his recklessness has caused an innocent to loose his life. He proposes that they come up with a plan to win back the trust of the Saviors. All the while Richard explains himself, Morgan stands motionless, seemingly unmoved by what he is hearing. This is where the greatness of Morgan really shines as it isn’t always clear what exactly is going on in his head. Later, he is shown to be pondering the events of the day. Keeping in line with this season’s theme of recklessness having consequences, death strikes again.
The eerie shot from the cold open is given context as Ezekiel leads the Knights to the meet point with the single cantaloupe. Gavin asks about Benjamin, but quickly realizes that he didn’t make it; oddly enough, this seems to bother him and he demands that Jared walk home and not say a word with the threat of being killed if he disobeys. This is where Gavin shows himself to be at least somewhat reasonable and far more multi-dimensional than some of the other Saviors. It seems as though he wishes to live a calmer life, but his colleagues get in the way of that. Richard presents the cantaloupe to Gavin, but Morgan grabs his staff and sets a crazy plan in motion. Morgan knocks Richard to the ground with his staff before strangling him and bashing his head into the ground as the Saviors and Kingdommers look on in horror. After the bloody deed is done, Morgan explains that Richard caused all of the problems the previous day to start a conflict between the Saviors and the Kingdom. Killing Richard is Morgan’s way of showing Gavin that they understand the Savior’s rules; while this may not have been exactly what Richard had in mind, it is the perfect way for the Kingdom to win back the trust of the Saviors, which is what Richard stated as needing to happen. Gavin seems satisfied and reminds the group of their supply drop for the next week before leaving. Morgan stands over Richard’s body as Ezekiel and the Knights look on in shock; this is quite a wake-up call for everyone, especially Ezekiel, who had only seen Morgan as the pacifist that he presented himself as. Morgan tells the group to head back to the Kingdom and that he will take care of Richard’s body, but Ezekiel states that he shouldn’t be alone. In a heartbreaking bit of confusion, Morgan accidentally refers to Benjamin as “Duane.” This just might be the most powerful part of the episode as Morgan essentially views himself as a father figure to Benjamin, a bright light in the apocalypse who was ripped away far too early just like his son Duane.
This shift in Morgan starts a whole new stage of the game. After killing Richard, Morgan drags his body to the open grave that was found earlier. He finds Katy’s backpack in the dirt and decides to bury Richard with it; it’s worth noting that while Morgan did kill Richard, he isn’t heartless and burying Richard proves this. Rather than heading back to the Kingdom, Morgan uses his staff to kill several walkers before making his way to Carol’s cottage. He alerts her to the fact that he killed Richard and that the conflict with the Saviors isn’t over like Daryl told her. After being in the dark for twelve full episodes, Carol is finally told about the murders of Abraham and Glenn at the hands of Negan; Morgan also tells her that Spencer and Olivia have been killed and that Rick and the others are preparing for their retaliation. The gravity of what Morgan has just revealed hits Carol and tears form in her eyes; while she may not have been shown interacting with Abraham much, her and Glenn go all the way back to the beginning of the apocalypse and these losses still weigh heavily on her. The sudden realization that four members of her group have been murdered propels Carol forward and she heads to the Kingdom. Morgan, on the other hand, prepares to leave the cottage to go “clear” as many Saviors as he can find; before he leaves Carol states that he “can go and not go,” which is what Ezekiel told Carol back in “The Well,” convincing her to leave the Kingdom to be alone but still stay close. When she arrives at the Kingdom, Carol finds Ezekiel and tells him that it is time to fight, to which he agrees, but not quite yet. The problem with the crops must be dealt with before anything can be done; you can’t fight a war without any way of sustaining yourself. Carol and Ezekiel plant some seeds in the gardens with the now orphaned Henry, possibly hinting at a family dynamic in the future. The episode ends as Morgan is shown sitting on the cottage porch, using a knife to turn his staff into a spear; the gift that Eastman gave Morgan back in “Here’s Not Here” to put him on a peaceful path has just been turned into a deadly weapon that will surely be used to perpetrate violence. If that isn’t some grade-A foreshadowing and symbolism, then I don’t know what is.
“Bury Me Here” is one of the most powerful episodes of “The Walking Dead’s” entire run, quickly jumping to the top of my list of all time favorites. Morgan-centric episodes have always managed to have the perfect mix of beautiful storytelling and emotional character development with “Here’s Not Here,” “Clear” and the series premiere “Days Gone Bye” being his shining hours; this episode feels like Morgan’s own personal version of “The Grove,” furthering his parallel to Carol. While Morgan may not be in the best mental state, I don’t believe he is fully insane as he still manages to hold on to some of his humanity and pragmatism. The performance from Lennie James this episode is absolutely spectacular and the Emmys would be downright stupid not to recognize him for it; the single scene where Morgan accidentally says Duane’s name was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Melissa McBride also delivers a fantastic performance this episode as Carol, specifically when she is told about her fallen friends. It’s great to see Carol back in business and hopefully we will see her join back up with the rest of the group at some point; I can already tell that I will be an emotional mess during those reunions. Khary Payton also stands out with his portrayal of Ezekiel, who has finally realized that fighting is the only way to secure a future for his beloved Kingdom. While the deaths of Benjamin and Richard are tragic, they serve the purpose of sparking the revolution in the three main characters featured in this episode; in the end, Richard will play a role in the rebellion, just like he always wanted. Karl Makinen deserves special praise for absolutely nailing the role of Richard. Is Morgan headed down a deadly road? Will Gavin turn against his group of Saviors? Will the Kingdom be able to solve their problem with the gardens? Will Nabila and Shiva ever be friends? Next week’s episode looks to focus on the Hilltop, as well as Sasha and Rosita’s potential suicide mission. Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.